Noilly Prattle: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kutna Horror

Kutna Hora photos

That tells you something about the power of suggestion.

You see, my SO has this guidebook? Bible? It is her constant companion, even more than me I think... Nah, the old girl and I get along fine (most of the time); she just likes to know what's to be seen in new places we hang out in for a while. After all you can't cocoon all the time. And she has gazillions (exaggeration) of guidebooks.

inspiration for pirate flags and poison bottles?
Anyway, to make a long story short, she's telling me about this place called Kutna Horror that has thousands of human bones for decoration in an ossuary (formerly a chapel). You have to understand one thing about her guidebook—it's in Japanese writing. Words of foreign origin are written in syllabic characters called katakana that try to phonetically depict the sounds of the original. What she was saying sounded to me like Kutna Horror and since it was a place full of human bones the name made sense to me.

Now, there is another place in the Prague suburbs called Bila Hora that means White Mountain. Enlightenment descended upon me and I made the connection between the two Horas. So I asked the SO: “Is this the same Hora as Kutna Hora?” Says she: “Well, yes, of course, what did you think?”

Never mind, we won't go into that.

We took a day trip (an hour by train from Prague) to Kutna Hora, a world heritage sight. Saw the gothic church of St. Barbara (begun, 1388; completed, 1558), patron saint of miners [the area had silver mines and a mint in town]. The church is interesting for its unusual roof lines which form concave pyramids [look a little like a three-ring circus tent). According to the promo literature, the church was entirely paid for by the local people without money from the Vatican. True believers indeed! We stopped for coffee and a salad in a little coffee shop near the church and then took the “scenic” route and walked three or four kilometers to the Sedlec Ossuary that contains the human bones of an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 people, 10,000 of which are used for the decorations.

And here I'll shut up and let the photos speak for themselves. See above link.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

T. G. I. Friday—I suppose

Happy Birthday

Lot's of galloping hormones along the streets on a Friday night as we walked through Old Town to the theater—young males on the prowl for a good time.

Radek Baborák
The morning after and I've sufficiently descended from Cloud 9 to talk reasonably coherently about last night's all Mozart concert at the Theater of the Estates in honor of Mozart's birthday.

The concert was conducted by the accomplished French Horn player Radek Baborák who also soloed in two horn concertos by Mozart (Horn Concerto #3 in E flat major and Horn Concerto #1 in D major). There is little point in oohing and aahing about the quality of the music. Baborák had perfect rapport with the musicians of the National Theater Orchestra and led them with a firm baton and encouraging smiles and nods for one of the tightest and most disciplined orchestral concerts I've listened to. Mozart himself would have enjoyed this birthday party.

Theater of the Estates

The charming and relatively small and intimate Estates Theater was the perfect (if not ideal) venue for a Mozart concert since the theater is closely associated with him. Mozart himself premiered and conducted what is said by some to be the “best opera ever written”--Don Giovanni here in October 1787. It was called the Teatro di Praga at the time.

Box #2
We had box seats with a view looking down on the orchestra so that it was clear to see all the action; from the conductor dancing and cajoling the instruments individually and in groups to the whole orchestra performing as a single organism. My attention sometimes wandered to little details that you wouldn't normally notice from seats on the floor: the first violinist fingering the strings in her solo, one cello player dancing with his instrument with head bobbing the beat and rhythm, and so on. It felt like being right on the stage in a musical bath of surround sound stereo-like quality.

view from our box

Baborák, speaking in Czech, said that Mozart's music is “truly inspired, beautiful, entertaining, uplifting, one that has withstood the ravages of time. I hope that today's concert will serve as proof of this.”

It most certainly did. I would only add “light” to Baborák's adjectives. Mozart brought the light of the Enlightenment to music—probably the greatest point of expansion of the human spirit in history. Now we have dissonance. What a joy to bask, however briefly, in that light that is Mozart's enduring gift to us. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Streetcar Named 22

B: .... death.... The opposite is desire. Like that old rattletrap streetcar that bangs up and down the quarter.

S: Haven't you ever ridden on that streetcar?

B: It brought me here!

#22 in the suburbs
#22 at Malostranske Namesti
our stop
My beloved streetcar, tram actually, isn't called “Desire”. In fact it doesn't really even have a name. It is merely number 22, but it clanks and squeals faithfully up and down our quarter and out to the suburbs. It's easy to hop on and off since I bought a 3-month pass. No need to drop coins in a slot or negotiate with the driver for tickets. Just keep the pass in your wallet and ride as often and as far as you want. The pass is also good for the metro and city busses. With those three modes of transport and your own legs you can go pretty much anywhere your heart desires in Prague. A car is entirely unnecessary and would, in fact, be a pain in the derriere since the roads are narrow and cobbled and parking is a nightmare.

The city is a vast spiderweb of trams, the rails like the shimmering threads of a dewey spiderweb backlighted by the early morning sun. The rails share the cobblestone streets with car traffic and from inside tram 22 I am grateful that I don't have to navigate those streets in a car and, heaven forbid, try to find a place to park.

You see odd things on the tram as well as everyday humanity trudging and gliding its way through the day. Just the other day a guy was sitting on the floor of tram 22 playing a guitar and singing. Then his girlfriend (I assume) got up and passed the hat around. Didn't get to me before the door opened and I got off at my neighborhood stop though.

Did I mention that I am madly in love with my tram number 22?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Verdi and McWorld—who could ask for anything more?

Another night of sheer delight at the Prague State Opera. I'm running out of adjectives and superlatives and I run the all-too-imminent risk of becoming repetitive: dazzling, awesome, stunning, Turkish delight (now where the hell did that come from), etc., you get the picture. I LIKED last night's performance of Rigoletto, enormously, to put it mildly.

Martin Barta
Nikolaj Visnakov
Marina Vyskvorkina
The two most important characters in this tragic opera/drama of Giuseppe Verdi, the court jester Rigoletto (baritone Martin Barta) and his maiden daughter Gilda (coloratura soprano Marina Vyskvorkina) were perfectly cast for voice, character and acting ability. Barta's deep warm-toned baritone was strong in cynicism and precisely nuanced in humility, regret and ultimately sorrow. Vyskvorkina's Caro Nome easily matched (and possibly exceeded) the Gildas I have seen performed by Edita Gruberova and Christine Shaffer. The weakest link in an otherwise flawless performance was perhaps tenor Nikolaj Višňakov as The Duke of Mantua. His tenor, while powerful enough to project into the audience, seemed less than natural, a little breathless and strained in the highs. Seemed to require noticeable effort; yet a more than competent performance. Frankly, I was moved to mistiness more than once, especially with Ms. Vyskvorkina's Caro Nome, and Mr. Barta's Cortigiani, vil razza dannata. Both were roundly applauded by an appreciative audience.
happy campers during
 intermission of Rigoleto

McD's in Mala Strana, Prague
The SO and I decided to walk back to Lesser Town in order to compose ourselves after the show. The chilly evening air seemed alive with a lot of late-night people on Wenceslaus Square. Unfortunately, all the cafes were closing and we wanted a nightcap of coffee and something sweet (other than T&A in a cabaret we passed along the way). We crossed the Karlovy Most (bridge) into our neighborhood of Mala Strana and the only place open was a McCafe not far from our flat. It was time to succumb to McWorld, so we stepped inside and had our nightcap. We decidedly got the best of two worlds last night.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Prague Cemetery Connection

Been reading Umberto Eco's new book The Prague Cemetery. It's a rambling tour through the various revolutions in 19th Century Europe complete with Machiavellian plotting, backstabbing and murder, Jewish conspiracy theories, racism and ethnocentricity, occultist societies and just Eco's inimitable breath of trivia cum learned intellectual mumbo jumbo and grandstanding in general. Not as tight and well developed as my favorites: The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, it tends to meander and be difficult to follow the anti-hero from one nefarious assignment to the next, let alone the confusion of his apparent “split personality”. Perhaps all will become clear by the end of the novel. Eco can be demanding.

My aim isn't to review this book, however, it is about Prague cemeteries and their possible connection to Eco's title. I have “discovered”, so far, two cemeteries in Prague: one Christian at Vyšehrad Castle (no charge to enter), which is where composers Dvorak and Smetana are buried; and the other the Jewish Cemetery in the Josefov (old Jewish quarter) section of Prague (sadly, not free). There are guided tours through the sites of the Josefov which includes some synagogues and the old cemetery, but for now at least we chose to just walk around and look from the outside.

Eco's Prague Cemetery is the old Jewish cemetery. I'm only about halfway through the novel and have so far seen only one reference to the cemetery of the title. I might consider springing a few kronas for the tour if more details about the cemetery emerge in the novel. I did take a few photos of some of the synagogues in the quarter—one of them the oldest synagogue in Europe.

Jewish Cemetery is on the left,
but you can't see it

the oldest synagogue in Europe

unobtrusive entrance to oldest synagogue

Spanish Synagogue (Franz Kafka statue)

private Maisel Synagogue

golem restaurant - nest to Maisel Synagogue

Prague by Night

Malostranske Namesti - our tram stop
outside the front door
of our building

Returning from the opera one night, the SO was commenting on the street lighting in the Lesser Town's Malostranske Namesti (Square) where our apartment is located. She had been asking me to take some nighttime pictures for her blog and I was interested in trying to use my camera in ambient light without shaking and without a tripod, so out I went.

our backdoor street
dome of St. Nicholas church
It was a rainy night as I started looking around the neighborhood for potential shots that might be interesting and might capture the warm mellow yellowness of the street lamps(not a cold blue-white fluorescent tube in sight). The cobblestone pavement was wet and shiny adding an extra bluesy dimension to the evening's activities. If blues can be golden then it would describe the feeling of our square on a rainy night. 

fast food for low-budget
weary world travelers
Rain falling softly and unobtrusively on my hair and the fur of my hooded jacket, umbrella unwanted and unneeded; all my senses focused on the nighttime scene of color, light and human activity; my greedy lenses trying impossibly to capture it all in digital images of a Sunday night in the rain in our old neighborhood of Malostranske Namesti.

Well, unfortunately, my poor skills (and maybe cheap camera) couldn't capture the mellow of the yellow street lamps. The camera tries to average the existing light and overexposes the strongest points of light so that they come out white. Still, the images speak for my abiding affection for this achingly lovely part of the old city of Prague, even if they don't capture the color I wanted.

sunrise to drive away the blues in the night
And, if you look real closely, you will get a glimpse of one of things I love most about this city. Can you guess what it is?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Clockwork Aida

We are seeing a performance of Verdi's Aida tonight at the State Opera in Prague. We attended our first opera of the season there last week with La traviata. We thought that Josef Moravec the tenor (Alfredo) and Svatopluk Sem the baritone (Papa Germont) were very good to excellent. The soprano in the title role, Anna Todorova, however left much to be desired. She is singing the title role again tonight in Aida. We are setting the bar a little lower for tonight's performance in hopes of a pleasant surprise. Maybe she just wasn't up to snuff for the La traviata performance. 

I hope, I hope!

WOW! OMG! What can one say about near-perfection. This Aida, at the State Opera in Prague, is the kind one dreams about being in the audience to experience. No! The One. This performance, with Anna Todorova in the title role, was more than the pleasant surprise I was hoping for, it was, without exaggerating, a revelation. I am not an easy operagoer to please, but this show kept me engaged, not to say, mesmerized from the tightly controlled Overture to the opening aria, Celeste Aida, more than competently delivered by tenor Nikolaj Višňakov, to the closing “Pace” by the brilliant mezo-soprano Veronika Hajnová. The great Yelena Obraztsova would be proud.

Ms. Todorova seemed like a different singer from the one who sang La traviata last week. She was a consummate Aida—subtle and clean, clear highs whether delivered at full power or barely audible easily heard in the balcony. Her O Patria Mia was sparkling. It was sheer delight listening to all these wonderful artists giving a bravura performance across the board. 

balcony front row center
A word about seating. Tonight we were sitting in the rafters right in the front row center—completely unobstructed view of orchestra pit and stage. Seen in this position the orchestra and the action on the stage are completely integrated, and performing in clockwork precision as a whole. The pit makes the base of a triangle with its focal point downstage halfway up. You have to imagine this triangle in the photo on the right. In this way the orchestra is the principal actor always upstage center. The action takes place in the middle ground and downstage in a classic performance, neither lavish nor minimalist—just great music, costumes, setting and acting. 

As I said, near perfection.


G. Verdi: Aida
Cast: Jan 19, 2012
Hein, R.
Todorova, Anna.
Hajnová, Veronika.
Višňakov, Nikolaj.
Cavalcanti, M.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Persian Odyssey: Part VII—To go on or not...

map Kermanshah to Shiraz

That was the question pressing for a decision as I said goodbye to my student's family and headed out of Kermanshah. The night had been quiet and there was no sign of further disturbance in the streets. Prudence seemed to dictate an immediate return to Esfahan, but I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the Achaemenids yet. From the look of things I wouldn't likely get another chance to see the archeological sights I was interested in. (Americans are still personae non grata in Iran). So, throwing all caution to the winds I headed south towards Susa and the descent into the Mesopotamian Valley. I would add a side note at this point about the agony of Kermanshah, which is only around 100 km. (63 miles) from the Iraq border. Soon after the success of the Islamic Revolution war broke out between Iraq and Iran and lasted throughout most of the 1980s. Kermanshah was hit hard and has not yet fully recovered I hear. I have no idea whatever became of my student or his family.

Taqwasan--equestrian carving of Khosrau II 
and his horse Shabdiz in the large grotto
There are some interesting caves and relief carvings in the cliffs of Taqwasan just outside the city from the 6th Century AD. The largest cave shows a relief carving of the Sassanid king Khosrau II arrayed for battle on his horse. The cave itself is decorated with carvings of the tree of life and flower patterns and winged angels.  

To be continued....

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


checkered pattern of fire blackened
and new stone in the Frauenkirche
fire blackened stone in
columns new stone in cornice
You can't be in Dresden without being reminded of what happened here in February of 1945. You can find before and after photographs (in Wikipedia for example) of the result of the firestorm that occurred in the wake of the aerial bombardment of the city with explosive and incendiary bombs by the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force. But the reconstructed buildings reassembled with a mixture of fire blackened stone and new stone are mute testimony, neither in the abstract nor ambiguous, to 1) the unconscionable targeting of civilian populations that are so much the norm in modern warfare and 2) the indomitability of the human spirit rising Phoenix-like from the ashes and debris. I can't imagine how, but it is said that the blackened stones intermingled with new stone have been juxtaposed to match their original positions in the buildings.

extensive square around the
clearly defined fire blackened
and new stone

There is a certain vast sense of missing things in the enormous cobblestone squares in cent-ral Dresden. It's as if large parts of the disappeared city have simply been paved over. (I don't know if the original city had such large squares.) Walking late at night in the cold of mid-winter the streets and squares are eerily lonely and quiet—vast spaces and silent emptiness—seemingly in a ghost town. In the morning light snow is falling and the square around the Frauenkirche is still almost empty. We are walking from our hotel to breakfast in a restaurant across the square and wondering if it is really open or if we will find anyone there. But the ghost town of last night was only an illusion, or maybe a brief mental salute, to the 25,000 or more civilians who went up in the flames of Dresden. The restaurant is open and warm and the buffet excellent, but the snow is falling silently outside on the quiet streets of Dresden.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Merry Widow at Dresden's Semperoper

Semperoper today
Dresden's opera house, Semperoper, was destroyed in the aerial bombing of Dresden and the subsequent firestorm by the RAF and USAAF in 1945. Exactly 40 years later, on February 13, 1985 the opera house was reopened with the same opera that was performed just before it was destroyed, “Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber.

inside Semperoper for The Merry Widow
Last night the SO and I attended a performance of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow at the Semperoper. We were on a day trip from Prague, where we are staying for the winter. It's difficult not to like this charming operetta of a  fictional country, Pontevedro's embassy in late 19th Century Paris. It is full of the best loved-music of Vienna (waltzes) and Paris (can can)--a winning combination full of ear and eye candy. It's a typical love story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl (in the past, before the start of the operetta), boy finds girl again and after several fitful starts and stops boy wins girl.

This performance is done in more or less modern dress instead of period costumes. The set is simple and uses pop art type props such a huge red mouth (out of the parted lips of which the “grisettes” [whores, one topless] emerge) and an enormous hand for a couch. It was all great fun. One thing impressed me especially. The Germans seem to be getting over the Nazi era and can laugh at themselves about it (in the theater anyhow). The portrait of the “king” on the embassy wall resembles Adolf Hitler with light bulbs in the eyes. When the ambassador salutes the portrait he gives a two-fingers extended salute that unmistakably resembles the American icon, a raised middle finger. 

a little nightcap of Gluwein
The lion's share of audience approval went to the can can dancers who did everything can can dancers are supposed to do including showing their derrieres. The main characters' performances were a disappointment however. They were charming enough, but they could not consistently project their voices enough to be heard above the orchestra. They were quite weak and barely audible in Act 1, seemed to be warming up a bit in Act 2, but lost it again in Act 3. Apart from that, all in all, a very enjoyable evening topped of with a nightcap at the nearby cafe.  
Copy and paste the link below for photos and a video of the show.

Principle Cast:

Baron Mirko Zeta:                                        Reinhard Dorn
Hanna Glawari [The Merry Widow]:         Barbara Senator
Graf Danilo Danilowitsch:                          Christopher Magiera
Valencienne:                                                 Nadja Mchantaf
Camille de Rosillion:                                  Aaron Pegram

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Worst Don Giovanni...ever

Seemingly following in the footsteps of New York's Metropolitan Opera, Milano's la Scala broadcast live the opening of its 2012 opera season with the premier of a new Don Giovanni to selected theaters. I was able to pick up the broadcast on NHK in Japan about a week after the opening. I was stunned (but not surprised) the see several gushing revues, with an occasional honest attempt to be more balanced in the review.

I wonder if professional critics are being paid to praise these mediocre performances, or do they simply have tin ears? This was, hands down, the worst Don Giovanni it has been my misfortune to listen to. I never thought that Mozart could be tedious, but this absolute horror of a production proved me wrong. I am no fan of Anna Netrebko, and she was up to her usual low-bar standards--but at least she didn't toss her curls over the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit as she did in I Puritani. Callas must be doing cartwheels in her grave at the idea that "Trebs" is up to her achievement. 

 How anyone other than a fan can be lulled into thinking she is a coloratura soprano is inconceivable. A true artist like the mezo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli can sing higher than “Anushka”. Even the tenor, was higher than she was. She was visibly struggling with the high notes. Her looks, on which her stardom (not her voice or acting skills) is mainly based, are shot. She must think that screechy volume is a substitute for tessitura. One wag referred to her in this performance as “Draculette”. 

Removing part of a costume that looked as if it was made from old furniture upholstery material, Barbara Fritoli looked utterly uncomfortable doing a semi-strip tease during her final aria. She looked hauntingly 10 years older as she gazed at the audience. I was saddened watching a singer I once admired mired in this production. Mattei is unsuited to the role of the Don as envisioned by Mozart and da Ponte, or at least in the way he was directed. In this “interpretation” the innocents are cast into hell, while il dissoluto is not punito. On a more positive note Bryn Terfel had some good moments, but was not at his best. 

It is hard to believe that Barenboim was conducting this muddled, hardly recognizable interpretation of Mozart. Furthermore, if one really wants to see T & A, there are much cheaper strip joints to go to than la Scala. Finally, the set looked like the grand old dame la Scala gazing at her own navel. Sadly, it seems that some of the major houses these days are going for the money to the detriment of quality music.

Friday, January 13, 2012

To critique or not to critique...

I love to go to the opera, but have found myself frustrated by the poor quality of performances at brand name houses, especially the Staatsoper in Vienna. I've been wondering if I should venture into music criticism on this blog. I hesitate since I am neither a musician nor trained in music and I'm told that I can't even carry a tune. But my secret vice (well, one of them anyway) is that I like to sing along with CDs when alone in my car where no one will freak out or roll their eyes.

But, as far as critiquing music [opera and concerts] is concerned, I have attended shows and/or heard enough recorded performances to be able to compare. Furthermore, I know what I like. And I do NOT like the current trend of using so-called “stars” to bring in the money to the opera house—especially such brand name houses as the Vienna Staatsoper, the Met in New York and Milan's la Scala—who are neither very good singers nor actors. They are basically “famous” because they're famous. In other words they have good handlers and press agents and are well hyped, but are not true artists. They are more like “IDORU”, idols who are mostly famous (to their fans) for their sex appeal and good looks as opposed to musical artistry. Real artists with great voices can be overlooked because they do not have the currently fashionable “right” look, i.e., drop-dead gorgeous in a movie-star way. For the brand name houses nowadays the star singer, as in Hollywood, is “the money”. He or she sells tickets for houses increasingly starved of state support for the arts in hard economic times. Then, all too often, the star will not even show up for the performance you may have bought tickets for and you are left with an expensive ticket for an understudy, and no reduction in ticket price or refunds. This is accepted as “normal” in such tourist traps as the Vienna Staatsoper (shocking as that may sound to those mesmerized by the Vienna brand image).

Fortunately, there are alternatives to the “world class” brand name houses all over Europe in lesser known cities and towns where the true atmosphere of the theater still exists and talented artists give superior performances because they simply love their work and do not have the over inflated egos of pampered stars. Prague has three functioning repertory houses with reasonable ticket prices and generally good and sometimes outstanding performances. The Theater of the Estates (where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni), shown on the left is particularly charming.  Bratislava has two houses which also produce good shows at reasonable prices. Budapest has one house famous for its architecture and decor. Tickets are reasonably priced and the city is beautiful as well.

I am currently spending the winter opera season in Prague and hope to try giving my non-technical impression of some of the shows I will attend in and around Prague through the end of March. Just whether I liked the show or not any maybe some whys and wherefores.

More later.

Photo on the right was taken last year at The Theater of the Estates in Prague for Idomeneo.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Persian Odyssey: Part VI – The Revolution Catches up to Me

As I left Hamadan I reflected on how idyllic my journey had seemed so far. The bike seemed to be running smoothly and I had been treated like visiting royalty by my student's family. The echoes of the Islamic revolution seemed far behind me, it was summer, the sun was shining and I headed for the next stop on my itinerary, Kermanshah, and my second visit with the family of another student. I looked forward to another “banquet in my honor” although I could do without the preliminary butchery, but kept my camera at the ready—just in case.

The relatively short ride from Hamadan to Kermanshah was uneventful and I soon met up with the second of my students (a Kurd) following prearranged directions. We then proceeded to his home to meet the family. They were polite and correct but I sensed a subtle difference, an uneasiness, a tension in the air from what I had experienced in Hamadan. A discrete time after the introductions and formalities I suggested to my student that we go out for a walk and take in some of the sights of Kermanshah. Again, I sensed a certain nervousness and hesitation, but he agreed and out we went.  

The sound of something not being said began to seem deafening in my ears. It wasn't long before it became abundantly clear what that “sound of silence” was all about. The downtown area of Kermanshah looked like a combat zone. There were fire and smoke blackened storefronts with blown out plate glass windows. Shattered glass and rubble covered the sidewalks and crunched under the soles of our shoes, or, in my case, motorcycle boots. The place looked deserted. There seemed to be no one else about besides the two of us. My student finally broke his silence and, stating the now obvious, told me that there had been trouble just the night before: rebel firebombings and shooting between them and the loyalists in the streets, but that it was quiet today—so far. I realized that being in my company under the circumstances placed him in danger as well as myself, so I insisted that we return to his house and I would leave immediately so that his family would not become a focus of suspicion for housing the “enemy”--Americans who supported the Shah's government. Naturally, I was guilty by association and citizenship, not to mention my job sub-contracted to the Shah's army airforce.

It was rather late in the afternoon by the time we got back to his house and I began to get the bike ready for immediate departure. Meanwhile, he conferred with his family and explained my position and decision to leave immediately. The family, however, were opposed to my leaving at that late hour saying that it would not be safe for me to be out alone at night as trouble could start up again at any moment. It would be better, they said, for me to stay the night and leave in the morning in the full light of day. Again, I protested that my presence in their house placed them in a dangerous position, but they said that they could not, in good conscience, let an honored guest take the risk of going out alone in the existing situation. I took this concern for my safety to be the equivalent of the previous “banquet in my honor” and gratefully acquiesced to their request. In truth, I had not been all that crazy about the idea of leaving alone in the dark with the revolution snapping at my heels.  

public domain photo taken during Islamic revolution-summer 1978
(courtesy of Wikipedia)

To be continued...

In Transition

We've been pretty busy getting our act together and settling into life in Prague. Despite a couple of minor bumps in the road, not unanticipated but always annoying as demonstrated in my previous rant, we are already beginning to feel at home in our flat in Prague's Lesser Old Town. After a few days of cloudy rainy weather, the sun is slowly winning the battle as shown in this photo I was lucky enough to be out of bed just in time to see.

We have been to the theater twice already. The first night, at the National Theater, we saw a splendid performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nut-cracker"--a very popular family thing to do here in the Christmas/New Years season. Half the audience appeared to be children. We were just as spellbound as the kids I have to admit. Unfortunately photographs are verboten during a performance so I have no pictures of the actual show, but a couple inside the opera house.

The second performance, at the Rudolfinum (pictured on the right), was a small group ensemble concert composed of five wind instruments: flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and French horn. They too were excellent. I was amazed at how only five instruments can be made to sound almost like a full orchestra. They played a variety of pieces from various periods: Mozart's overture to "The Marriage of Figaro"; Grieg's "Norwegian Dances" with a particularly beautiful passage on the French horn; and other pieces by Rossini, Arnold, Ravel and a suite for wind instruments for Bizet's "Carmen". All were exceptionally well played but I didn't care for the Ravel waltzes.  Got a couple of clandestine shots of the musicians, too. Bad boy!